Margaret Coons, CEO of Nuts for Cheese, is changing the Canadian world of vegan cheese

By Marjan Asadullah

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In this weekly series, we profile entrepreneurs approaching the top of their game, and ask them how they got there. This week, a chef from London, Ontario who started her own vegan cheese company. 

Although Margaret Coons comes from a family that weren’t vegetarian, she was one and found different ways to make it work for herself since the age of 12. She has always made a conscious effort to make her own meals separate from her family’s to accommodate her choices and later went on to learn how to cook when she was a teenager and in university which helped her with her dietary choices.

However, it wasn’t always easy to be vegetarian. There weren’t a ton of products available for vegetarians or vegans in the market, and while the lack of products was obvious to Coons, the demand for vegan and dairy-free options has increasingly grown over time. This was when the young chef-turned-entrepreneur combined her passion for food and the art of culinary experiences with her commitment to her dietary choices to create Nuts for Cheese.

The vegan cheese products Coons created started off small as it mainly retailed at local farmers market booths with the print packaging coming from Coons home computer. After noticing an interest in her products and success in her operation, Coons decided to pursue the business seriously.

While working as a chef by day at London’s Veg Out, the 28-year-old CEO used the restaurant’s kitchen to create a vegan cheese production facility. Some of her artisan cheese is made from cashew milk, fermented in wheels and served in wedges, providing a sophisticated range of flavours including Chipotle Cheddar, Smoky Artichoke and Herb, and Super Blue, which has the renowned marbling look of Blue Cheese.

Although Coons admits working in a small business can have its challenges, as she’s played many roles including in sales, marketing, production, bookkeeping, even dishwashing and more, she says she’s lucky to be able to do what she loves around a team she enjoys being with.

“The two things that are super motivating to me is how we’ve created an incredible team of people to work who are all really passionate about the product and the vision of the company. The other thing that is motivating is that I get to share a high quality organic vegan cheese with others with so many people,” Coons said.

The demand for Coons dairy-free cheese has been insatiable, thanks, in part, to the fact that Canadian consumers are choosing vegan and dairy-free options in record numbers with nearly 10% of the Canadian population considers themselves vegan or vegetarian, and in the States, according to research from Dalhousie University. Dairy-free alternatives, therefore, make up 40% of the total of all dairy and dairy alternatives by 2020, up from only 25% in 2016, according to research by Packaged Facts.

In just three years, the young entrepreneur’s signature recipe has gone from selling exclusively at a local farmer’s market booth to expanding into a 7,000 square foot production facility to supply retailers all across the country, including Farm Boy, Goodness Me, Longos, and Sobeys, and more. And if the trends and consumer demands continue on target, there’s no sign of stopping for the young CEO as in 2015, she became the recipient of London, Ontario’s Top 20 Under 40 award.

What’s next for the young chef turned entrepreneur?

“We hope to continue to expand our products to more consumers and make our vegan cheese expand to super markets around the country. We want to make sure that people have a healthy and high quality product vegan option available for them,” said Coons.